World’s biggest meat producer ‘has increased emissions by 51% since 2016’, despite net-zero pledge

Image: JBS

EDITORS’ NOTE: On 19 August 2022, a spokesperson for JBS informed edie that the firm had conducted an independent review which highlights “flaws” in the methodology of the original research referred to in this article. Details of that independent review can be viewed here

JBS is the world’s largest meat company. It produces the majority of its meat in Brazil, other parts of South America and the United States. JBS supplies to clients in the retail and hospitality sectors across the world, including Costco, Tesco, McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC. Its investors include Santander, BlackRock, Barclays and BDNES.

Non-profit research and advocacy organisation the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has this week published research outlining how JBS’s value chain emissions are likely 51% higher than they were in 2016, despite the business’s stated intention to set approved science-based emissions targets on the road to net-zero by 2040. This could undermine the stated net-zero pledges of businesses that invest in or source from JBS.

The net-zero by 2040 commitment was announced by JBS last year but was criticised for the fact that it excluded, in the first instance, Scope 3 (indirect) emissions. Further criticism was levelled at the business for setting emissions intensity goals rather than promising to cut emissions on an absolute basis. JBS has promised to set approved science-based targets, which would entail the development of absolute goals to cut emissions across all scopes.

Supporting the IATP’s research, which it has stated was conducted using the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s GLEAM model, are Feedback and Desmog. According to the research, JBS’s operations and value chains generated 421.6 million metric tonnes of CO2e in 2021. This is a figure higher than Italy’s annual emissions for 2020, or the 2020 annual emissions of oil and gas major TotalEnergies.

JBS is yet to release its official sustainability report detailing progress in 2021. This is expected in July. The 2020 edition of its official sustainability report states that JBS’s operations and supply chains generated more than 123 million metric tonnes of CO2e in 2020, with year-on-year reductions recorded in Scope 2 and 3 emissions but a slight increase in Scope 1 emissions year-on-year. Overall, the report boasts of a 3.2% year-on-year reduction in the emissions intensity of operations.

edie contacted JBS for a response to the calculations and to the broader accusations of poor environmental governance and performance levelled by Desmog, Feedback at the IATP. A spokesperson for the business said the report “uses flawed methodology and grossly extrapolated data to make misleading claims, including the use of our processing capacity to estimate our emissions”.

The JBS spokesperson said: “While we do not agree with their methods and were not given the courtesy of contributing to, nor responding to, the report’s findings prior to publication, we have outreached to the NGO to review their findings in full in pursuit of our mutual goal. We have also outreached to independent expert advisers in this area to ensure a transparent science-based approach. ”

The spokesperson added that it work is “underway” at JBS to improve emissions disclosure and to achieve verification for its net-zero goal from at least one third party. They maintained that the net-zero goal is “ambitious” and that the business “has been transparent”.

“It’s mind-blowing that JBS can continue to make climate claims to investors, even as the company massively increases its emissions,” said the IATP’s director for Europe, Shefali Sharma.

“Our updated emissions estimates show clearly the harm being done by empty net-zero announcements. Investors gathering at today’s AGM shouldn’t be fooled by this greenwash. We need public, independent and accountable systems for monitoring these companies’ emissions. Governments need to step up and regulate these companies and support a transition out of this destructive model of industrial livestock production.”

Joining these calls to action for investor and corporate action, paired with greater regulation, are Mighty Earth and Greenpeace. Mighty Earth is also advocating for businesses and individuals to shift to more plant-based diets, to help avoid some of the systemic sustainability challenges in the global meat value chain.

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